Thursday, 27 March 2014

UGK - Ridin' Dirty (1996)

Many centuries ago, just before I discovered the internet and the joy of buying stuff from it, and a few years into most London record stores getting into the concept of selling mainly just the latest George Michael or Adequate Furry Animals shite - and very little else - I stumbled across a second-hand place in Camberwell, apparently mere days after someone's mum had cleared out his entire rap collection, thus meaning such an influx of golden nuggets as to cause my eyes to quite literally pop out on stalks. There on the racks was just about every rap disc upon I had cogitated over the previous couple of years, all cheap, and probably a good suitcase worth of stuff. Amongst these were four discs by UGK: the notorious Banned EP - boasting what is probably the most astonishingly and amusingly offensive rap number of all time, the sort of thing which makes Eazy-E sound like J-Live rapping about lettuce; and the first three albums, of which this is the third. Somehow, I hadn't heard too much by UGK, but I understood them to be essential listening, and I'd liked what I knew of them from their guesting on tracks by Jay-Z, C-Murder, and others. Anyway, they didn't disappoint.

I'm not sure UGK ever recorded exactly what you would call a classic album, but on the other hand I don't think they ever made a bad one; and Ridin' Dirty feels like some sort of aural landmark, epitomising the third coast sound at its height before the influence of crunk levelled everything out, reducing something previously too big and diverse for categorisation to a bloke with gold teeth telling you about his car. For those of you who've just joined us, southern rap has never really been any one thing, and has as such always sounded - to me at least - a little broader, more adventurous than forms originated elsewhere in the States, the west-coast g-funk, or one of those headachey New York types exorting us all to wave our hands in the air over sixty flavours of Roland cowbell. Like the south itself, southern rap makes its own rules.

Ridin' Dirty is produced by N.O. Joe, a name perhaps more famously associated with Scarface and Rap-A-Lot Records, and as such establishes a clear link between the bluesy-gospel roots of its practitioners - gumbo funk, as the aforementioned N.O. Joe termed it, evoking jazzy film noir soundtracks jammed out at three in the morning in smoky clubs, wah-wah guitar and soft stabs of electric piano over a deep, warm bass, all slowed down to the pace of the Gulf Coast heat. More than anything else I can think of, Ridin' Dirty is roughly what it sounds like living in Texas, hot, dry, slow, and with quite a lot of death around. It's not only a profoundly soulful listening experience, it's also quietly terrifying, as - I suspect - are many of the darker blues records once you get past the patter. UGK were gangsta rap in the truest sense, that being something entirely consistent with Chuck D's view of rap as being the black CNN. It'll probably be a while before the genre throws up anything quite so classy as UGK again, so this is as good a place as any to get yourself edumacated.

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